Post by Markus
Hi, my name’s Markus and I’m a human – specifically, a middle-class white American straight male thirty-something raised in a large city in the Bible Belt. By reading those words you probably have some idea of the perspective that’s colored much of my experience into adult life – socioeconomic privilege, American male perspective, conservative/fear-based upbringing and all.
Up to about age 36, I held certain beliefs about what it means to me a man. No one handed me a manual at any point along the way – it was a construct I’d built throughout life based on what I’d absorbed from the world around me. The messages were loud and clear.
I knew that to be a man, meant certain specific things. These were so obviously true in my mind that I had zero doubts about them. I took them as completely true and accurate – though reading these now it’s immediately apparent that they’re very flawed. Chief among these beliefs were:
To be a man means to be immune to the “weakness” of living emotionally
To be a man means to be “tough”, “right”, “in control” and “not feminine”
To be a man means to live logically and rationally – the opposite of whatever “women’s intuition” is
I’d heard about women’s intuition enough times to know that it was a great mystery that I should probably leave unexamined, since I clearly didn’t meet the prerequisite to even begin to understand what it might be. I couldn’t have given you thirty seconds worth about it:
“Women’s intuition? Let’s see – so it’s for women, obviously. OK – so, probably it’s how they say they have feelings about something, like they just know something and really trust it based on – something. Based on feelings, I guess. It seems pretty complex, likely has to do with being emotionally-based – not like us rational men.”
So basically – emotion plus a certain enigmatic “je ne sais quoi.” I decided it must be irrelevant to me and I let it be, without much thought.
ABER MACH IT DAS FASHION!
Armed with this ignorance about women’s intuition (and about the concept of intuition in general), my indoctrination as an American male raised in the 80s and 90s was in many ways pretty average for that time.
There are shades of gray, to be sure. I was born in Germany and I lived there until I was five years old. I went back to visit fairly regularly throughout elementary and middle school – plus we were frequently hosting family and friends who flew over to Texas to visit. That did give me a different perspective on things – men’s fashion for example.
In the U.S., skinny jeans didn’t come into trend until about the mid/late 2000s (at least where I was living). Before that time, especially in the mid/late 1990s, it was clear to me that wearing skinny jeans as a man had certain implications about whether or not I was a “real” man. That was based on what I heard from other guys at school and from what I absorbed from TV and movies. To make sure there was no ambiguity about my identity and to prove that I was definitely a man’s man, I made sure my jeans were as baggy as possible.
Even though that “truth” about men’s pants existed in the U.S. (or at least in the public schools I attended), it didn’t seem to exist in Germany. Skinny jeans for guys were rampant there as far back into my childhood memories as I remember. It seemed like for some reason, German guys didn’t get the memo.
German men were wearing skinny jeans without a second thought about the implication of what that meant about their identity as a man. Even when family friends came to visit us in Texas, the guys brought their skinny jeans along and wore them as if it was the most normal thing in the world. It was beyond strange to me and to my friends, especially in middle school.
The only way I could reconcile it was to decide that for some reason, German guys like their jeans to fit snug and slim. I concluded that they were just misguided or a little behind the times and didn’t know any better. I chalked it up as a strange, unexplainable cultural difference – like the German obsession with hard-boiled eggs for breakfast or their passion for taking things way too seriously.
There were other ways that I was different from the guys at school, besides that I spent the first five years of my life in Europe. I was definitely on the more thoughtful/sensitive end of the spectrum.
“Thoughtful” – meaning that I was often lost in thought, followed a wild imagination, and had tons of creativity.
“Sensitive” – meaning that I was a softie, likely to get my feelings hurt, and couldn’t handle movies with any kind of blood or guts. At the same time that my friends were watching the R-Rated Terminator movies with wild-eyed excitement, I was covering my eyes and hiding from the PG-13 classics like Dances With Wolves.
I never played any organized sports although disorganized sports were definitely my thing – I couldn’t get enough of riding bikes, skateboarding, and playing street hockey. I did try really hard several times to get into baseball, basketball, and football so that I could relate to my friends and join their conversations about games they watched and how their team was doing. When I tried, it was forced though – there was nothing that was pulling me toward sports, they just didn’t move the needle for me (and still don’t today).
The closest I got to dabbling in following sports was getting really into the Charlotte Hornets in the early/mid 90s.
Actually – make that “getting really into the Charlotte Hornets logo and color scheme in the early/mid 90s.”
The first time I saw the logo, this cartoon character struck me as edgy and unconventional – but mostly as fun. To me, all the other NBA logos seemed boring and like whoever created them had just phoned something in that somehow got used as the actual logo.
After that, cue the Charlotte Hornets gear. Hats, jerseys, shorts, Starter Jackets, special edition Larry Johnson shoes – nevermind that I couldn’t have told you anything about Larry Johnson or that I didn’t watch the games.
I got really into the team colors – the teal definitely, but way more into that purple. From that point on, if it came in purple – that’s the color I got it in. I had purple shoes that I wore with purple jean shorts (still thinking about bringing those back in 2020). Purple and I had a great run for years.
That changed when I found out in no uncertain terms that purple was not a color that was cool (or even OK) for boys to like. I learned that pretty easily by osmosis in the suburban public school system around the transition from elementary to middle school. It was clear: “If I wear the color purple (or even just like the color purple) – then I don’t fit in with the guys.”
This was around the time that I also learned that the more I modified my preferences and self-expression to fit the expectations of others, the easier social interaction seemed to be. With those two new beliefs quickly ingrained, I put the color purple on the back burner and started looking toward the status quo for guidance on what colors were OK for guys to like.
BE A MAN
Learning the lesson that certain colors were OK to like and others weren’t was one thing. The larger lessons that came along the same time cut deeper and were more harmful. There was no ambiguity – these were unbendable rules if I was to consider myself a man.
Don’t appear weak (or even remotely vulnerable or caught off-guard), ever.
Don’t cry (or express any emotion unless it’s one that’ll make you look tough).
Constantly overcompensate to prove that you never do both of the above items.
The seeds for these beliefs were planted years earlier and by early middle school, they were irrefutable in my mind. I started building a wall against these in my heart to make sure it wouldn’t betray me by letting emotion/”weakness” out accidentally. I didn’t realize that I was actually betraying my heart by shutting it down.
Emotion was out and the replacement was action – the domain of men. It was time to do things, impress people, achieve something. I was no longer a little kid and it was time for the rubber to meet the road. No more playing around – this was middle school, people.
I internalized new beliefs easily since I was a very suggestible kid – eager to understand messages about what I should do and who I should be, so that I would get approval from others. These included:
Let your accomplishments speak for you.
If you do something great, then you’ll be great.
See all those stats on the back of baseball cards? That’s something these mighty men DID and because of what they did, they’re mighty men. They’re stronger, faster, and can go harder than anyone else out there – that’s why they’re winners and that’s why all the rest are losers.
My default mode was “more / faster / harder”. Is something not working?
More! Faster! Harder! Push, push, push!
If I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted, then obviously the answer must be “more / faster / harder.” It worked in the movies for all the badass guys who represented power and all that is man.
Like Gary Gulman emphasizes in his recent HBO special The Great Depresh, the dominant message was “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.”
I tried the more / faster / harder method for decades. I never got anywhere with it. Sure, I got a little extra quick-burn horsepower when I needed it in short bursts to burn the midnight oil for projects – school, work, home, etc. But it wasn’t the real power that I needed to actually be effective – and in the long run, it only led me to frustration and burnout. The dangling carrot of self-approval never got any closer, although each new project and to-do list promised to deliver if I only pushed even harder and got even more done.
NOTHING TO DO
About this time last year, I found myself in Miami with an empty day and nothing on the agenda. My default response at that time to any unexpected block of free time was “great – now I can catch up on this mountain of things to do.” I considered hitting the gym, reading, doing work on my laptop, and organizing my many to-do lists that I had brought on the trip. But I didn’t do any of those.
Something pulled me toward the water and for some reason I went with it. The best I can explain it is that I just slowed down for a minute and “felt” what seemed the most natural. It turns out, that was walking to the beach alone and standing in front of the wind and crashing waves.
It gets a bit metaphysical here which I’m definitely into. The magic was that I heard something – except I didn’t hear any words. It’s like I just felt the presence of something deeply true and the words came together somewhere in my being. And they weren’t words – they were more like gentle commands. There was no force – it’s like they were strong recommendations from a deep, ancient source of wisdom. To keep it simple, I’ll call them “words.”
The power and depth behind those words made it seem like the source knew that I would hear them and that I would listen. I had no judgment or consideration of whether I should or shouldn’t listen. Honestly, that was the whole reason I was there – I had followed the pull of the ocean. I wanted to connect with a source infinitely bigger and far more ancient than my own being.
Through the wind, I looked out at the ocean. It was just “there.” It didn’t seem to be “doing” anything, it definitely wasn’t “trying” to do anything, and as the number one largest thing on this planet – it had nothing to prove.
I stood still for a few minutes with the wind in my face.
Then, I heard “Sit.” So I took off my shoes and sat down in the sand.
After a while, I heard “Listen.” So I listened.
Actually I kind of figured that I had already BEEN listening but OK – I’d come this far, and I was willing to listen more intently.
A while later I heard “Breathe.” So I did.
I had been dabbling in box-breathing (à la the Navy Seals) for a while – though I’d only been doing it one-minute sessions, which already seemed really long. I had nowhere to go and nowhere to be, so I did five-minutes of box-breathing as I sat on the beach – using the second hand of my watch to guide my breath. After those five minutes, it felt like I was connected even deeper with this presence before me and like the dividing line between myself and the ocean dissolved away.
Sometime after that, I quietly heard the last word: “Be.”
That was it.
So I did.
Or rather, I didn’t – I mean, I didn’t “do” anything. Just like the ocean when I first got to the beach, I was just “there.” I wasn’t doing anything, and I wasn’t trying to do anything – I just was. I kept sitting and breathing until it felt that the experience was complete. I looked at my watch and I’d been there on the beach about an hour.
I’m convinced that the entire time that I was there in the sand was just so that I would hear and absorb that simple, final message – “Be.” The three prior words – Sit, Listen, and Breathe – were just as important, so that I would be open and receptive to the ultimate message. With a stormy, chaotic mind – it’s easy to miss a calm, simple message like “Be.” In the state I was in when I first got to the beach, that message wouldn’t have even been a blip on my radar.
WAVES IN THE OCEAN
It felt very much like I had been exactly where I was supposed to be, in that place on the beach at that exact moment in time. When I think about that experience these days, it feels like the lighting of a small fire of what I can only describe as “intuition” – to me, that means “being in-tune with something greater and wiser than myself.”
I believe the purpose of that attunement is so that I will grow and thrive, to ultimately be more useful for the people and world around me. A major part of that growth is to stop pushing and resisting life – and instead, to surrender and let life live thru me.
I’m just the vessel, here for whatever greater purpose life has in store for my time on this planet. One of my all-time favorite song lyrics are these words from the band 311 – “Kingdom comin’ thru ya!” To me, that means life living its purpose thru a human being, for the good of others and for the world.
Just like waves and the ocean – inextricably connected. One moves thru the other and there is no resistance – only flow.
In the time since that experience last year, I’ve switched my default mode from “more / faster / harder” to “less / slower / easier.” Rationally and logically, that made zero sense to me at first. If I’m “not getting everything done that I need to” and “I don’t have enough time for everything on my plate” – then obviously the answer must be “more / faster / harder.” I mean anyone can clearly see that more is more, amiright?
Instead of redlining and brute-forcing my way through when something isn’t working, now I take a deep breath and ease off the gas. Somehow that makes me more calm and better able to approach whatever I’m struggling through – strange, I know.
So is there even such a thing as men’s intuition? Well, here’s how Merriam-Webster defines intuition (condensed for simplicity):
quick and ready insight
the power of attaining direct knowledge without evident rational thought and inference
So does it exist for men? I have a couple responses and I’m only scratching the surface here. My answer has several parts:
There is such a thing as intuition and men can tune-in.
In a calm, non-resistant state of mind – messages via intuition appear obvious.
In a chaotic, resistant state of mind – the mind and heart are insulated from intuition. I would compare it to take a cell phone into a cave deep below ground. Both the source and the receiver are still functional, but something is blocking the line of communication. There’s an impenetrable barrier and no reception.
I believe this rabbit hole of intuition for men goes much deeper and that intuition is intricately connected to a calm mind and open heart – which when combined, are ultimately our real source of power. One of my favorite quotes is this one by Marcus Aurelius:
The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.
Intuition, calmness and power/strength – to what end? That depends on purpose and meaning – two topics for another day, and the central question of why we’re even here on this planet in the first place. For now I’ll leave it with this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh – comparing waves (each human being as an individual) to the ocean (humanity and existence as a whole):
Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realizes it is water. When we realize we are not separate, but a part of the huge ocean of everything, we become enlightened.
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